News Archive

Backstage Whispers overheard by Richard Andrews

Last updated : 31st October 2003

Covent Garden wouldn't let impresario Raymond Gubbay run their opera house, so he is starting his own. Gubbay, in association with theatre owner Stephen Waley-Cohen, has announced the first season of Savoy Opera, his new commercial opera company at the Savoy Theatre, under the artistic aegis of director Steven Pimlott, conductor David Parry, and manager Sarah Playfair. It opens with Rossini's comic opera The Barber Of Seville, in repertoire with the opera that inspired it, Mozart's The Marriage Of Figaro, from 5th April to 19th June. Bizet's Carmen, together with Donizetti's romantic comedy L'elisir d'amore, will follow from 28th June to 11th September. Verdi's La Traviata and Offenbach's La Belle Helene will run from 20th September to 4th December. Mozart's fairy tale opera The Magic Flute completes the season, playing from 13th December to 5th February. The company will run on the standard West End basis of eight shows a week, and charge musical theatre prices. It will operate a 'no stars' policy, with young singers, performing in English, and the 1100 seater theatre will allow more intimately staged productions than in traditional opera houses.

It's Official! As previously forecast here, Jeremy Edwards, Emilia Fox, Jared Harris, Dilys Laye, Laurence Penry-Jones and Polly Walker will star in Christopher Hampton's Les Liaisons Dangereuses, directed by Tim Fywell, opening at the Playhouse Theatre on 12th December. Adapted from the 18th century novel by Pierre-Ambroise-Francois Choderlos de Laclos, it is the story of a game of sexual corruption, deceit and betrayal, as two aristocrats scheme to seduce two innocent victims.

The Theatre Museum's latest exhibition, It's A Great Night Out! The Making Of The West End 1843-2010 celebrates the development of London's Theatreland, and the fires, murders, paranormal happenings (and plays) that have taken place in these fine buildings. The exhibition comprises playbills, models, posters, props, films, letters and behind the scenes images, that show the commercial theatre's continual efforts to juggle the competing claims of artistic demands, audience enjoyment and financial survival. Although the first playhouse opened in Drury Lane in 1663, most existing theatres were built around a century ago, in a world of very different audience demands - of both entertainment and comfort - from today. The exhibition ties in with the launch of Scene / Unseen, a book of theatre photographs by Derek Kendall, published by English Heritage. This offers glimpses of those parts of the theatre world not normally seen by the public, including rehearsal spaces, dressing rooms, backstage areas and (inevitably) a royal toilet.

Allied to the exhibition, the Theatres Trust has just published a report called Act Now! Modernising London's Theatres, following a two year study into the state of the fabric of the 40 or so commercial West End theatre buildings. This finds that the age of the properties, and changing audience expectation, mean that in order to maintain or improve them, there will be a need for the investment of 250m in refurbishment over the next 15 years. Given the restricted income that theatres can produce, this is inevitably far more than the owners will be able to afford, and up to now, no Lottery, Arts Council or government funding has been made available to commercial theatres. Since the West End theatre generates 37m per year directly in VAT on ticket sales, plus a further 200m in tax from related sectors such as restaurants and hotels (including income tax from the people who work in them) to swell government coffers, a significant public contribution to this refurbishment would not seem unreasonable.

The Donmar Warehouse has announced a further production for next year. Michael Grandage will direct the Tony Award winning musical Grand Hotel, which will play from 29th November to 12th February. Based on the novel by Vicki Baum, about the guests and staff at a grand hotel in Berlin in 1928, the book is by Luther Davis, and music and lyrics are by Robert Wright and George Forrest, with additional material by Maury Yeston. Tom Stoppard will be writing the new translation for Donmar's previously mentioned contemporary production of Pirandello's Henry IV, about a man who falls off his horse during a pageant, and comes to, believing he is the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV (nothing to do with Shakespeare or Falstaff).

Following the retirement of its long serving director William Lynne, the first season at the Wigmore Hall under the new dual regime of Paul Kildea (artistic) and John Gilhooly (executive) is under way. Their basic programming policy is 'steady as she goes', but a 3m development programme is planned, and an appeal has been launched to raise the final 500,000 funding. This will pay for reseating, the installation of air conditioning, and improvements to the soundproofing and radio studio. The latter will not only help with concert relays, but also allow commercial 'live from the Wigmore' recordings to be made. The work will be completed during a 16 week closure next summer, after which the first innovation will be an experimental series of late night jazz concerts on Friday evenings. A separate appeal for 2.5m has been launched to enable the hall to buy the lease of the building, in order to save the 150,000 it has to pay annually in rent, which would help put it on a more sound financial footing. Further information about the concert programme and appeals can be found on the Wigmore Hall web site via the link from the London Venues section of TheatreNet.

On The Casting Couch: Nicholas Farrell (reprising his performance from the original production), Paul Kaye, Adrian Lukis, Flora Montgomery and Paul Sirr will join Harriet Walter and Penny Downie in Dinner, directed by Fiona Buffini, opening at Wyndham's Theatre on 9th December; and David Calder, Will Keen and Indira Varma will join Damian Lewis and Helen McCrory in Five Gold Rings, directed by Michael Attenborough, opening at the Almeida Theatre on 18th December.

Thornton Wilder's The Skin Of Our Teeth, directed by David Lan, will open at the Young Vic Theatre on 3rd March. This experimental play combines farce, burlesque and satire, casting a typical contemporary (1942) American family back in time to see how they cope with events of history and legend: the Ice Age, Noah's flood, and World War.

The Rumour Machine says: that singer Mariah Carey will make her stage debut in Terence Rattigan's The Sleeping Prince, (filmed as The Prince And the Showgirl) on Shaftesbury Avenue in February, produced by Bill Kenwright; that after many false starts, Calista Flockhart is 'about to sign' a deal to star in Eugene O'Neill's Anna Christie, in the West End in March, directed by Ian Rickson and produced by Sonia Friedman; and that Tara Fitzgerald will star in Ibsen's A Doll's House, in a new version by Bryony Lavery, directed by Rachel Kavanaugh, at Birmingham Rep in February, with a West End transfer in mind. The Rumour Machine grinds on.